Foraging the Garden – Mustard Greens as Natural Decongestant

I have insane allergies that seem to have gotten worse as I got older. These days, my nasal passages can get so swollen that I can barely breathe. I think I may have chronic sinusitis, but I haven’t gone to the doctor as I’m true to form. As many Asian comedians would say, Asian moms are the last people to go to the doctor. So, I’m dealing with it my own way and keeping myself away from the antibiotics that I’m sure to be prescribed.

My really bad allergies strike about once a month. That’s the time when my immune system plummets and I have to purposefully boost my health so I don’t get debilitated. I’m not exaggerating. You can’t do anything when you’re forcefully sneezing every 10 seconds, or if you have pains bothering you. If I’m not careful, I can get a really severe asthma attack or a nauseating migraine attack. Or both. Since the best defense is a good offense, I usually take more supplements as well as apply and diffuse essential oils to ward off these potential episodes.

Unfortunately, sometimes I forget to be conscious of dates and I find that I already dropped the ball on going on the offensive, giving my allergies the chance to attack with a vengeance.

Home Remedies for Stuffy Nose

When my nose is seriously clogged not only by mucus, but by inflamed blood vessels as well, I have several go-tos for breathing aids.

1. A hot liquid – This could be a drink like herbal tea or some kind of citrus juice, or soup (preferably Korean). Inhaling the steam also helps, of course.

2. Chili in food -That would explain the Korean soup preference. I love spicy food, but, other than pickled peppers like pepperoncinis and banana peppers, I don’t really eat chilis straight. I just season with them or use them as condiments. I’ve found Sriracha to be very effective.

3. Wasabi – Blessed was the day I discovered this Japanese horseradish paste! I love what this can do to my nose. I remember an episode of “The Nanny” wherein Fran Fine tried it for the first time. With a more dignified non-nasal voice, she said, “Gee, you know that mustard really clears up the nasal passages. I like it. I wonder how (nasal voice back) long it’s gonna last.” That’s right; the relief that doesn’t last very long, but those few seconds of normal nose-breathing are gold when you have a stuffy nose. That’s why I like having a tube of wasabi paste on hand.

4. Mustard greens – Bearing the same component (allyl isothiocyanate) in wasabi that causes that nasal burning (and clearing!) sensation, mustard greens are both delicious and stuffy nose-busting.

The Wonderful Mustard

Mustard is getting the spotlight in this post because it’s my favorite vegetable, and as long as I remember to plant seeds at regular intervals, I always have some available in the garden.

I consider the mustard to be all that as a plant. It’s peppery, crispy, nutritious, and biblical! I feel it’s extra special because Jesus talked about it. 😀 In any case, the following are some of the established benefits offered by mustard greens in case I haven’t swayed you over to their fandom.

  • They have loads of health-promoting and disease-preventing phytonutrients.
  • They are rich in vitamins A, C, and K and have sufficient vitamin B-complex for it to count.
  • They are a great source of various antioxidants – carotenes, flavonoids, indoles, lutein, sulforaphane, and zeaxanthin.
  • They have plenty of dietary fiber while also being low calorie.

Studies have found that regular consumption of mustard greens helps protect the body against various ailments and diseases, including arthritis, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and certain cancers.

Mark and I are kind of addicted to the things. He used to like pickling them and having them on standby in the fridge for a side dish or a snack, but he has cottoned to my lazy ways, which involve plucking leaves from the plant and eating them straight like a common garden vermin, lol.

—————-Arugula/Rocket Salad—————-

I’d love to have other peppery, decongesting vegetables in my garden. I’m going to try watercress and nasturtiums, but I don’t think they’ll thrive in my climate. I do have arugula, but its bite stays in the mouth and doesn’t blaze up to the nose the way wasabi and mustard do. That reminds me, I have wasabi radish seeds that I should have another go at. The first seed sprouted just fine, but something ate the seedling, so I have to find a safe place for my next try.

What about you? What’s your favorite vegetable? What decongesting tricks do you want to share? What do you frequently forage/harvest from your garden? I’d love to know.

Birthdays and Malaise

September is an insane month for us. Three of our family of five have birthdays exactly a week apart. It’s not like we can even get all the celebration in one go. There’s one every week. I’m not complaining; I just want to give you an idea how hectic things get during this time.

But, first, let me share the online cards I made for Marguerite and Cameron.

 

 

 

This year, we had to keep our celebrations to just the family. That includes my parents, sister, and cousins. Mark’s family live far away, and with the pandemic, arranging time with them got even more difficult.

Unless it’s a milestone birthday, we usually don’t have a party. We had one last year because our eldest became a teenager. This year, the celebration was way more low-key – less stressful, yes, but not completely stress-free.

On the birthday itself, we have a little ritual of cake-blowing and gift-giving when the celebrator wakes up. Mark and I used to buy a cake for the wake-up ritual, but this results in two or more birthday cakes crowding up the fridge for days, and then when the supply is finally dwindling, there comes another batch of cakes from the next birthday. I’ve learned to just make something that we can pretty much finish off at breakfast.

Around noontime we head on over to my parents’ house because my mom always prepares a spread and that’s where we celebrate with the rest of my family. My children are the only kids on my side since my sister is happily single. I also have three younger cousins whom I still think of as kids but who are actually already in their 20s. They’re very close to my family and more like my siblings than cousins. They’re all still unattached, so my kids are blessed with this solid set of doting aunts and uncle.

Mark’s birthday is, of course, a little different from the kids’. We usually arrange a staycation at nearby lodgings. That was a bit harder to manage this year on account of the pandemic, but we were fortunate to find a place in the mountains that Mark had actually already been interested in checking out for some time. The following day, we just indulged in a pleasant drive on mountain roads. Please note that we hardly had any social contact all throughout the trip, and we stayed masked-plus-face-shielded and always disinfected like crazy.

 

The thing is that we always have satisfying celebrations, but when our days start to settle down, that’s when the adrenaline sort of crashes and exhaustion sets in. Around the end of September, people start getting sick, usually starting with my husband. Flu-like symptoms manifest. With the threat of COVID-19 always looming among us, home diagnosis is a tad more nerve-wracking this year. Fortunately, the symptoms seemed more straightforward – no loss of taste or smell, no diarrhea.

As I’ve mentioned before, we try as much as we can to remain drug-free when treating our illnesses. We were able to deal with this round by drinking lots of tea, supping lots of soup, taking immune system-boosting supplements (multivitamins and 4Life Transfer Factor Plus – my parents are great believers in Transfer Factor, and from my own experience with it, it does seem effective), oiling, and getting plenty of pampered rest.

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. Thank the Lord because I seem to have dodged the virus. So does Cameron. This is a real blessing because I’m the official caregiver here. Exposure and exhaustion usually make me susceptible, but it certainly looks like I’ve been spared this year.

In any case, I would like to share the essential oil flu blends for diffusing and topical application that I used on my family.

 

Homemade Probiotics: Easy Sauerkraut How-to

We are now more aware of the importance of gut flora (microbiota – bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses) to our overall health. Apparently, a significant part of our lives is influenced by what’s going on in our gut. Offering testimony to the cliché “small but terrible,” those microorganisms have a major impact on our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing and, consequently, our quality of life.

Many have resorted to boosting their gut health with regular consumption of probiotics (beneficial bacteria and yeasts). These are usually found in fermented food like yogurt, miso, and sauerkraut. Some prefer to take supplements instead of eating or drinking fermented foods.

As I’ve mentioned before, my two boys have ASD, and we’re currently on the Nemechek Protocol. To put it succinctly, they take olive oil, fish oil, and inulin (prebiotic – food for good bacteria) daily and avoid Omega-6 oils such as soy, corn… pretty much all the other oils except for olive, coconut/palm, and canola. They also don’t take multivitamins and probiotic supplements. Fortunately, probiotic foods and drinks are allowed, so they do consume yogurt, certain soft cheeses, and sourdough bread.

Mark and I, of course, eat other probiotic foods like sour pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut. The kids aren’t partial to them. I can understand. I wouldn’t have touched any of those with a ten-foot pole either when I was a kid. I still don’t like sweet pickles to date (and ketchup continues to creep me out, just to throw it out there). My palate has thankfully become more adventurous since.

Mark has also sold me on turshi. He lived in Dubai as a child and grew up eating pickled vegetables. Turshi isn’t typically available in the Philippines. Neither is sauerkraut (it’s not really popular here; I think the counterpart would be achara or pickled unripe papaya – something I also wouldn’t give a chance as a kid, but I like just fine now) so we’ve had to make our own.

We’ve been pickling/fermenting a lot of things actually. There’s something about it that just makes me feel efficient, like I accomplished multiple good things. If you think about it, pickling is preserving, so it prevents food wastage, ensures the goodness of produce when the fresh option isn’t handy, adds to your present or future food supply, gives you probiotics, et cetera, et cetera.

For now, I’ll focus on the sauerkraut, which, I think is one of the easiest to make. It may sound German, but it’s actually a side dish present in many cultures and dates back to the Roman Empire or even earlier. Before refrigeration, folks had to find ways to make their food last longer. Salt was usually the answer. In general, it provides the solution to many of life’s conundrums.

Sauerkraut is basically pickled finely cut raw cabbage. Kimchi and pickled cucumbers are produced through the same lactic acid fermentation process. The cabbage is layered with salt and then left for days to ferment. When fully cured and stored in an airtight container, sauerkraut can stay good for months.

What are some of the benefits of sauerkraut? First and foremost, fermentation increases the bioavailability of nutrients, making it richer in vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, folate, and dietary fiber than the original cabbage. It is high in antioxidants and, if left uncooked and unpasteurized, probiotics. Studies have also indicated that sauerkraut has components that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Historical records mention that consumption of sauerkraut helped in the reduction of death due to disease among prisoners of war during the American Civil War, as well as prevented scurvy (disease caused by vitamin C deficiency) among sailors during long sea voyages. All in all, sauerkraut is an amazingly healthy food. It also adds a healthy zing of tanginess, saltiness, and crunch to the gastronomic experience.

The sauerkraut recipes out there vary in directions and ingredients, so what I’m going to share is the simplest, most basic one. You can easily tweak it to adjust to the flavor you prefer.

As you get used to making your own sauerkraut, you’ll feel more confident about adding other ingredients like caraway seeds, ginger, berries, etc. You’ll also have a better idea how much salt you really want to use.

Do you eat sauerkraut? How do you like yours? What do you eat it with? What other probiotic foods do you make at home? OR do you even believe in the purported significance of gut health? I’d really like to know. 🙂

 

Fruit Cookies (Apple, Lemon)

Sometimes I get tired of chocolate chip cookies. Take note that I’m talking about me; I’m sure my kids would happily eat them every day. My other go-to cookie option is the snickerdoodle, but I prefer to bake it around Christmastime. I have baked snickerdoodles at other times of the year, but if I can help it, I reserve them for the -ber months. It’s just a silly personal tradition. Don’t even get me started on gingerbread or stained glass cookies; those are just for Christmas.

Sigh. I’m one of those people who like to make unnecessary rules and limitations for themselves, essentially making things pointlessly harder for myself. It’s pretty annoying.

In any case, I’m afraid that cookies are more than a “sometime food” in our home. It’s easy to make them, and my lazy/picky eaters are partial to them. To take a break from chocolate chip cookies, I’ve started baking oatmeal and raisin/dried berry cookies, but my boys (they’re on the spectrum) tend to pick off the raisins/berries. They’ll happily eat these, but not mixed in cookies. I have no idea why. They don’t pick off chocolate chips or apple chunks, which brings me to the alternatives that have worked for us: apple cookies and lemon cookies.

Apples and lemons are ingredients we usually have on hand since we buy them weekly. I have a Meyer lemon plant, but it hasn’t reached fruiting stage yet, so these two are the only ones benefiting from it right now.

Meet Muncher and Chomper. Names are obviously interchangeable. 😀

I know those of you who live in a place with four seasons associate apples with fall, but we import apples year round, so I was able to spare myself from a season-based restriction regarding it.

Here are the recipes. Tweak as you wish. The apple cookie recipe can be turned into another kind of fruit cookie depending on what chunks you put in. Just hold the cinnamon if your fruit of choice doesn’t go with it.

For the lemon cookies, when lemon extract isn’t handy, I find that a few drops of lemon essential oil work just as well. Note the different levels of flatness in the image? I had helpers, and one liked it flatter than the other. Mine was the happy medium.

Drizzle either cookie with a sugar glaze if your sweet tooth is a thug. Mine usually is.

Did you check out Muncher and Chomper? I’ll be posting about them soon. One has already reached the chrysalis stage as of last night. Soon we’ll be setting them free as beautiful lime butterflies.

That’s it for now. What’s your favorite non-chocolate chip kind of cookie? Do you also confine certain cookies to just the Christmas season? Let me know. 🙂

From Vicks to Katinko to Essential Oils (Plus Homemade Laundry Soap)

I recently saw a clip of Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy joking about Filipino moms’ tendency to cure everything at home. While I don’t resort to Vicks VapoRub for every malady like his did, it was definitely a staple at home when I was growing up. It was used a lot on me as I had a running cold (allergies it turned out) for most of my… oh, why limit it to childhood – for most of my life. That’s still the case up to now. I’m snotty in the morning, and my nose is sensitive to any disturbance – external (whatever’s in my environment) or internal (strong negative emotions). The urge to follow suit in the Vicks dependence is strong, except now, there’s Katinko. It took over Vicks VapoRub’s reign. I use it for pains, cough and cold, gas, etc.

As a true Katinko fan, of course, I got the ointment, the liniment, and the stick, but I’ve relegated them to the second line of defense. As much as I love Katinko, I know its ointment/balm is petroleum-based and it has synthetic ingredients in all its forms. In looking for a more natural alternative, I came across essential oils. This was about a decade ago, before the essential oil hype raged around the world.

I’ve always been interested in botany and herbalism. I can attribute the interest to various factors. First and foremost, plants and fungi are just so fascinating (right? *uncertainly* :D). Second, I was exposed to plant-based home remedies growing up.  I drank juice or tea from ampalaya (bitter gourd) leaves for my asthma, lagundi (Chinese chastetree) for coughs, calamansi (calamondin) for colds, and coconut water for UTI. I used acapulco (candle bush) for my dog’s episode with mange (it was an airborne problem, not mites), and you can safely assume that I squatted over a steaming pot of guava leaves tea in the days after giving birth. Third, my great-grandfather was an herbolario (herbalist, although many herbolarios were also witch doctors), so you could say it’s in my blood. I’ve always flirted with the idea of running an apothecary myself. Yes, in this century/millennium. I like the idea of making healing salves, balms, ointments, poultices, tinctures, teas, and (my daughter’s preferred term) potions all from natural ingredients. I know I have to do formal studies to run an apothecary. I don’t think my degree in foreign languages will cut it, lol. When I finally learn how not to be distracted, maybe I will formally study herbalism. In the meantime, however, I’m building my own FARMacy and using items from my garden for immediate remedies.

In any case, I thought essential oils fell right in with this lifestyle choice. When my first son was diagnosed with autism, I got even more into it. I came across various articles extolling the benefits of essential oils for special needs individuals. I started using oils to influence mood, encourage sleep, and stimulate mental clarity. Still connected to our autism diagnosis, essential oils figured as well in my bid to detox the family. Apparently, the commercial hygiene and home products that we use are rife with toxins, so I endeavored to start making my own from scratch, using oils and other natural, wholesome ingredients.

Considering my interest in essential oils, you’d have thought I immediately signed up with one of the dominant brands. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the idea of multi-level marketing, so I didn’t for a long time. I used different brands for years until I detected the better efficacy and general superiority of a couple of brands. It came down to two options, but I eventually chose Young Living as my essential oil brand of choice. I really liked doTERRA too, but most of the people I know were signed up with Young Living, so I decided to bite the bullet and sign up too. I figured if I was going to be using YL oils for virtually everything, I might as well get them at member rates.

Now, I likely won’t flourish much in the business side of YL because, first, I suck at selling; second, I suck at recruiting; and third, I don’t really have the time to devote to building a business. That’s not going to stop me from making a half-pantsed effort now and again though. You’re obviously getting a sample of some such effort right now.

All I can do is write about my experience with oils, how delighted I am with the benefits, how thrilled I am to be able to make my own products and know with certainty what’s in the stuff we use, how excited I am to share the oils and the knowledge with my loved ones, etc.

For now, I’d like to show you some of the essential oil blends I recently made. These are mostly rollers, blends I use for helping boost the immune system, for soothing itches, for repelling mosquitoes, and for combating allergies. There is also the spray blend I use to discourage aphids or to freshen up the smell of the room, plus a jar of homemade laundry detergent.

For the roller blends, it’s just fractionated coconut oil (which I prefer to virgin coconut oil, because it is more easily absorbed by the skin, doesn’t clog pores, and stays liquid no matter the temperature) as carrier oil and drops of essential oils. The spray, on the other hand, consists of distilled water and essential oils. For the laundry detergent, here’s the recipe.

You can make this by the gallon, of course, but it doesn’t have preservatives or other stabilizing agents, so I only make what I’ll be using for a week or two and then make another batch.

It gives me such fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, to make things from scratch. Essential oils make the endeavor better for all the benefits they offer. You can count on me sharing more recipes for essential oil-based products here from time to time.

As wonderful as essential oils are, there’s a learning curve to using it. It’s important to know the basic safety protocols before you even start. For instance, use of certain oils is discouraged for certain ages. There are also important diffusing guidelines you should know before you start. What about pets? Are essential oils safe for them? Arm yourself with the fundamentals and you can reap the benefits of essential oils without courting risk.

If you’re interested in getting into essential oils, or you’re curious and want to know more about them, or you’re a fellow enthusiast and would like to chat about them, reach out to me here. Or we can chat in the comments section. Your call. 🙂

Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 2

You’re stuck at home with nothing fresh and healthy in your fridge or cupboards. First, resolve to modify your grocery list (jk!), and then, look out to your yard for inspiration. When I go to my garden, I see quite a few things that I can use to add nutritional value to our meals. It’s not quite the “grocery garden” that I intend for it to be, but it’s getting there.

I enjoy gardening. I like to cultivate plants from seeds and cuttings. I get such a thrill from seeing green sprouts burgeoning out of the soil or green buds developing on stem nodes. Flowers have me doing a happy little wiggle, not only because they’re lovely, but they usually also mean that fruiting is at hand.

As much as I love plants that I grew myself, the excitement that a volunteer brings is something else. I will ruthlessly yank crabgrass from the soil, but with any other weed, I manifest a strange fascination. I’m always willing to let a volunteer grow more sturdy and then replant it in a separate pot, waiting to see what kind of plant it would turn out to be. More often than not, these weeds are medicinal, usually offering what could count as leafy greens as well. There have also been instances when volunteers turned out to be plants I would have grown willingly myself. For example, a papaya seedling suddenly showed up in a pot beside my dragon fruit plant. In another instance, a purple periwinkle (vinca) grew in a crack on the garden wall.

There is a popular volunteer, however, that tends to get overlooked since it’s common to see it as ground cover. I’m referring to the pansit-pansitan (pepper elder/ shining bush/ man to man). It’s characterized by shiny heart-shaped leaves and spikes with dotted tips, which are supposed to be their flowers. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), it also bears tiny round or oblong fruits, ridged, first green and later black. I’ve never seen a pansit-pansitan with fruit, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. Its presence is so ubiquitous that I tend to ignore it.

Pansit-pansitan is incredibly medicinal. It helps with various ailments from skin problems to diarrhea to gout, et cetera. And, as I’ve learned from various gardening groups I belong to, it makes for good eating too. So, I decided to try it out. I went to the garden and snipped the bigger leaves, washed them, and then included them in a salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a chopped up onion, tomato slices, and lettuce, plus the pansit-pansitan. I then drizzled it with a dressing concoction of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon essential oil, ground black pepper, and sea salt.

Now, as mentioned, I harvested the pansit-pansitan from my own garden. I know it’s clean since I garden organically. My main fungicides are baking soda and ground cinnamon, and my pesticide is a garlic-chili spray I made myself. I nourish the soil with natural fertilizers like vermicast, epsom salt, fermented fruit juice, et cetera. Don’t get your pansit-pansitan from the side of the road and other questionable spots.

Another word of caution involves use of essential oils. Not all of them may be ingested orally. Make sure you’re familiar with the list of edible oils before putting any in your food.

I’m interested to learn more about wild edibles. I would really love to suddenly find pako (fiddlehead fern) in my garden, but that’s probably not going to happen since I don’t live in a rainforest (I used to!).

Anyway, I’d love to hear about your own foraging stories. Please share if you have any. Hasta luego.

Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 1

When word of a lockdown started buzzing across the nation, my brain went on prepper mode. If we couldn’t go out for weeks, would we have everything we needed at home? While I can’t say that I came face to face with my inner hoarder, I can say that the impulse to panic buy bucked and reared, ready to gallop straight to the nearest warehouse store.

Unfortunately, all this went down right before we were to do our weekly grocery shopping. Taking stock of our fridge, I could tell our supplies were running low. And while our cupboards boasted enough packaged and canned goods to last us a week (mainly items I tended to ignore since they weren’t favorites), the fruit bowl was beginning to collect dust and a desolate wind was whistling through the barren vegetable crisper.

Obviously, there was really no need to panic buy since the stores remained accessible. For a few minutes though, I had to rack my brain for ideas on how to make our then-meager supplies stretch. With the absence of fresh produce, I also had to think about other ways to source fruits and veggies.

Thankfully, we have a small garden, and it can provide us with some healthy edibles if the scenario we were anticipating had been realized. With my exaggerated perception of the situation’s urgency, I was googling “edible weeds” and “edible mushrooms” (not that we’ve ever come across an edible kind in our garden). Thankfully, pansit-pansitan (in English aka pepper elder, shining bush plant, man to man), which we often get, is always featured in the list of wild edibles. 

However, a really exciting discovery for me (because I’m a plant nerd; also, I’m lame) is that we can eat mulberry leaves. I know you can feed them to livestock (I wish I had goats. 🙁 ) and you can brew them for tea, but I didn’t realize we could eat them as leafy greens. According to several posts I came across in my local gardening Facebook group, you can pluck young leaves and fritter them as you would making crispy kangkong (Chinese water spinach), make laing (he’e lu’au in Hawaiian – we don’t need to make this with octopus in the Philippines) with them instead of taro leaves (you won’t have to worry about your tongue possibly itching either), and stuff them as you would grape leaves.

Since I tend to like most fritters, that’s the first option I tried. You basically make crispy mulberry leaves the same way you cook crispy kangkong. It mainly involves egg, cornstarch, flour, cold water, and seasoning. I tried frittering talinum (fameflower) leaves as well, which I have a lot of, but I think they’re too soft. I’ll stick to just mulberry leaves next time. Or throw in some actual kangkong as well. Since the last frittering attempt, I’ve grown both lowland and upland kangkong.

I didn’t know I’d be blogging about it, so the pictures aren’t very appetizing. I just sent them to my family to show them, hey, you can do this! 

In the same eating-off-the-land/foraging-my-garden vein, I will also post about making pansit-pansitan salad and sprouting chia seeds for microgreens.

If you also forage your yard for food, please share your finds and what you do with them. 🙂

Corn Dip, Part 1 – An Impromptu Concoction

It only took half a year, but I finally got to satisfy my curiosity on the corn dip.

My mom came over last week, and as what is usual for her, she showed up bearing goodies for her grandkids. One of them was a big bag of nacho chips. Since I had a can of corn kernels, I decided it was time to try making corn dip to go with the chips. It was quite the hype late last year.

We typically have nacho chips here, but we usually just eat them with homemade salsa, enhanced to con queso or con queso y carne, depending on what’s on hand. That’s what has always worked for us and we’re not really anxious to try anything new. We hardly even bother to make guacamole even when there’s aguacate (avocado) around.

To be honest, I was dubious about the corn dip. Corn on top of corn? It seemed like you have to be crazy about corn to be able to roll with it. Eating corn chips with corn dip sounded redundant, like dipping tomato in salsa, avocado in guacamole… let’s make it less ludicrous… like French fries in mashed potatoes, cheese cubes in fondue…

I overworked the analogies there, but it was kind of fun thinking of possible combinations, lol.

I ended up inventing my own corn dip recipe since I had to work with what I had in my kitchen, but it turned out pretty well. I eyeballed the measurements a lot, so I can’t really give a precise recipe, but this is how I made it.

Corn Dip

Ingredients

  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 can of corn kernels (15 oz)
  • 1 pouch of tomato sauce (200 g)
  • 1 pouch of mayo (200 g)
  • Half a bar of cheese, grated
  • Leek, sliced (because my green onion plant died while I was away at church camp)
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • Cumin

Directions

  1. Sauté garlic and onion in butter.
  2. Add corn. Cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Add tomato sauce.
  4. Add leek.
  5. Season with salt and spices according to gut feel, haha. Cook for about five minutes.
  6. Pour into baking dish.
  7. Add mayo and cheese. Mix well.
  8. Pop into the oven at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 10 to 15 minutes (the dish, not you).

This tasted really yummy to me, but the next time I do it this way, I’ll be using two cans of corn. That’s not going to be any time soon though because the next time I make corn dip, I’ll be sticking to a more common recipe. That’s why there’s a part two to this corn dip saga. Let’s see which is better.

It’s crazy how I’m going on and on about corn dip when I have a long list of blog topics to write about.

Have you made/had corn dip? Is it your thing? What do you usually dip your tortilla chips into?

Paleta – How to Beat the Heat in an Easy, Cheap, and Yummy Way

How about this heat, huh? I know the weather is a banal topic, but how can you help it? It’s just there, messing with your life and power bill.

Earlier in the summer, the heat was scorching. It was relentless and unforgiving. You felt it on your skin like a high-grade fever. These days, it’s humid. It’s wet and oppressive. The air is muggy and dense, like it could drown you. Life in the tropics, eh?

“What kind of heat are we experiencing today?”

“Oh, it’s balmy/sultry/arid/infernal… It’s the kind that renders you temporarily insane and drives you to go streaking up and down your street.”

To keep a grip on your faculties, you need a good offense. Air conditioning is an effective solution, but it’s not the cheapest or the most environmentally considerate option. Baths also work, but they get old after a while. Food, on the other hand, is usually gratifying.

Ice cream, halo-halo, frozen yogurt… These are all good choices, but you usually have to go to the store to get them. The halo-halo, for one, requires a slew of ingredients and quite an involved process to make. For an easy and cheap homemade cold treat, we’ve always turned to the paleta or popsicle.

My eldest child used to make ice pops by filling an ice cube tray with juice, covering it with cling wrap, and sticking a toothpick in the middle of each square. These days, we use actual paleta molds and fill them with more complicated concoctions.

Homemade paletas are not only easy and cheap, they are also a safer bet. If you’re particular about nutrition, you can be certain of what’s in your paleta. You don’t have to worry about chemical additives mixed in for longer shelf life and prettier colors.

When we’re choosing to make something healthy, we like freezing smoothies. Most of the time, however, it’s about the flavor. Watermelon and mint, mango and chilies, pineapple and lime… it’s really up to you (or your kids) to find a blend that works. Over here, the winning paleta flavor is peaches and cream.

I can’t share a precise recipe because I wing it a lot and eyeball the ingredients. Basically, I use canned peaches (fresh ones are rare here), all-purpose cream, sugar, and cinnamon. Lookit.

Oftentimes, we are disappointed to note that the freezer holds no yummy cold treat for us when all the while, we have ingredients to make awesome paletas. Molds are inexpensive, so it’s nothing to make that investment. Experimenting with different combinations is definitely creative fun you can have with your kids. Ultimately, you get a cold treat to help make this awful heat more bearable.

The Battle of the Tortillas

When you hear “tortilla”, what comes to mind? Is it a thick potato omelet or a round flatbread made from cornmeal?

Growing up, I associated the word with corn chips because, well… you know, tortilla chips (which a Mexican friend told me were actually called totopos and not tortillas). And then I got introduced to burritos and soft tacos, so tortilla became that flatbread thing used to wrap around and contain ground meat, beans, rice, veggies, and cheese.

When I started majoring in Spanish, my professors introduced us to the peninsular Spanish language and culture first, so I learned about the other tortilla. What does it say about me that I found the fact that there were two entirely different kinds of tortilla infinitely interesting?

As intrigued as I was by the distinction between the Spanish tortilla and the Mexican tortilla, I was even more fascinated by the way the tortilla de patata is made. All that flipping and sliding seemed like kitchen acrobatics to me – riveting stuff.

Spanish Tortilla

At that time, I couldn’t even boil water (and I was in the Girl Scouts growing up too!). I just had nothing to do with the kitchen. My mother told me when I was two years old not to mess around in the kitchen or I was sure to burn or stab myself to death (not in those actual words, but you get the idea) and I took the warning to heart well into adulthood.

In any case, the Great Tortilla Distinction remained a fascination until, well, the present day. As a Spanish teacher, I integrated cooking the two kinds of tortilla into the lesson, the Spanish tortilla for the upper school classes and the Mexican tortilla (which is definitely easier to make) for the middle school ones. I even ordered a tortilla press, which turned out to be next to useless as we ended up preferring the good old rolling pin.

Now that I have my own family, the tortillas are also frequently in the menu. I have a bunch of picky eaters on my hands, so I have to plan carefully to ensure that mealtimes aren’t a battle of wills and that food isn’t wasted. No, I haven’t been able to train them to eat whatever’s in front of them. I didn’t even try, so let’s move on.

Fortunately, my kids love the Spanish tortilla and like chicken quesadillas. My daughter usually helps me when she’s not minding her brothers (she’s a regular Kristy Thomas – a little Baby-Sitters Club reference there, heehee).

The problem with our Spanish tortilla is that there are five of us and we definitely need more than one “pie”. My husband recently bought a bigger cast iron skillet (the man loves his skillets), so that might make a big enough pie for our family. I doubt it, but we’ll see.

I’m not going to share my tortilla de patata recipe here because, honestly, I just wing it most of the time, but this recipe is closest to what I usually do, only I add some butter, carrots, and paprika as well.

As for my chicken quesadilla. It’s one of my dumb and fast food choices, provided I had already made and frozen tortillas and there’s a jar of my husband’s famous salsa (well, famous at our church, lol) in the fridge.

I basically heat up some chicken breast nuggets, cut them into strips, melt some butter in the pan, place a tortilla in it, arrange chicken strips on top, grate cheese over them, see that the cheese has melted some, place a second tortilla on top, make sure the mess is stuck together, and then flip the whole thing over to fry the other side as well. There may also be strips of bell pepper, depending on its availability.

Which tortilla do you prefer? What do you usually make with Mexican tortillas? Share your tortilla knowledge and experience in the comments.

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